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Combined electrical resistivity tomography and ground penetrating radar to map Eurasian badger (Meles Meles) burrows in clay-rich flood embankments (levees)

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Article number107198
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>20/09/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Engineering Geology
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date7/06/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Globally, earth embankments are used to protect against flooding. Raised above the surrounding water table, these embankments make ideal habitats for many burrowing animals whose burrows can impact their structural integrity. Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is commonly used to identify and map animal burrows and other small cavities. However, the depth of investigation of a GPR survey can be severely limited in saline and clay-rich environments, soil properties commonly associated with flood embankments. In contrast, Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) can image subsurface voids in conductive ground conditions but has been rarely used to image animal burrows. Here we aim to assess the efficacy of ERT and GPR to image two badger burrow networks, called ‘setts’, located in clay embankments on the River Ouse, Yorkshire, UK. The two setts were excavated to validate the geophysical results, and the soil was characterised through logging and geotechnical analysis to develop a ground model of the site. We find that ERT can accurately resolve tunnels down to 1.5 m depth, map the structure of a multi-entrance badger sett and successfully identify the end of the tunnels. This result compares favourably to the GPR surveys, which mapped all but the deepest tunnels, limited by its penetration depth due to clay soils. Our results show that ERT can be used as a primary survey tool for animal burrows in clay-rich environments and can be validated using co-located GPR surveys if penetration depth is sufficient. The implications of this study may allow embankment managers to map burrow networks, assess flood embankment stability, minimise repair costs, and reduce unexpected failures during flood events. Additionally, a better understanding of how, for example, local heterogeneities impact badgers' burrow geometry may be achievable using these geophysical methods, as they provide a non-destructive, repeatable method for imaging setts.